What is Starleaf Poisoning?

The starleaf plant is a member of the Araliaceae family and is known throughout the world by its scientific name, Brassaia actinophylla. However, the Starleaf plant has also been given a variety of common names, including the octopus tree, umbrella tree, schefflera and the Australian ivy palm. The starleaf is grown in warm climates and is capable of reaching heights of nearly 50 feet. The starleaf is favored for its sweet, dull red flowers that bloom in the early months of summer, attracting a variety of birds that enjoy consuming this tree’s sweet nectar. 

Starleaf, a decorative evergreen, produces naturally occurring toxins, known as saponins, insoluble oxalates, and terpenoids, which cause cats to develop gastrointestinal upset. Felines that consume the starleaf vegetation can be easily treated and fatality from this variety of poisoning is very rare.  

Symptoms of Starleaf Poisoning in Cats

The symptoms of a starleaf poisoning in cats are usually limited to gastrointestinal upset, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. However, the starleaf plant does contain toxic substances that have been known to cause loss of appetite, leucopenia (low white blood cell count) and ataxia. 

A complete list of starleaf poisoning symptoms in cats are listed below: 

  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Low white blood cell count
  • Ataxia (loss of coordination)

Causes of Starleaf Poisoning in Cats

Starleaf poisoning in cats is caused by the ingestion of any portion of this decorative evergreen tree. The starleaf plant produces natural chemicals to protect itself from fungi, illnesses and insects, which are mildly toxic to domestic pets. These naturally occurring toxins, known as saponins, give the starleaf plant a bitter taste and the likelihood that a feline would ingest a fatal dosage of the plant is very low. This plant also contains insoluble oxalates and terpenoids that are known to cause irritation to the feline’s digestive system. 

Diagnosis of Starleaf Poisoning in Cats

Unless you witnessed your cat eating from a starleaf plant, your veterinarian’s diagnosis will be based on ruling out possible causes of your feline’s condition. The diagnostic process will include a physical examination, a review of the feline’s medical history, and a discussion of your cat’s possible exposure to toxins. 

Your veterinarian may order a number of diagnostic tests to assess and identify your cat’s condition:

  • CBC (complete blood cell count)
  • Biochemical profile (blood work) 
  • Blood smear test 
  • Urinalysis (examination of urine) 
  • Fecal floatation test
  • Fecal examination 

Treatment of Starleaf Poisoning in Cats

Starleaf poisoning in cats is treated by removing the plant material and its toxins from the cat’s body. An emetic drug will likely be administered to encourage the feline to vomit and remove undigested starleaf vegetation from the upper digestive system. Activated charcoal may be used to bind with toxic agents and prevent further absorption. If the stomach has suffered irritation from consuming the starleaf plant, the veterinarian may administer Kapectolin, a product that provides a thick coating to the stomach wall. To reduce the stomach acid inside the stomach and prevent high acidity from corroding the stomach’s mucosal layer, the veterinarian may administer sucralfate, which forms a paste-like coating to provide a barrier between the stomach contents and the stomach’s soft tissues. The feline’s treatment may end with intravenous fluids correct dehydration that may have resulted from prolonged vomiting or diarrhea.

Recovery of Starleaf Poisoning in Cats

The prognosis for starleaf poisoning cases is generally good to excellent. Most cats will begin to show signs of improvement within an hour of treatment and make a full recovery after 24 hours. As with all plant toxicity cases, the earlier the feline is evaluated and receives veterinary care, the better chance he or she has for a full recovery.